Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Brings Pure Imagination to Pittsburgh

I’m not the biggest fan of Broadway, but I know a good time when I see it. So when Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory opened up downtown, saw my golden ticket and I took it in hand and jumped into a world of pure imagination. Check out my review of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory after the jump.

DISCLAIMER: I was provided complimentary tickets to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory courtesy of The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.
Opinions are my own.

I think everyone knows the story of Willy Wonka by now. A mysterious chocolatier finally opens the doors to his factory for five lucky children who discover Golden Tickets in Wonka Bars. Inside the factory, the children and their parents discover a world of pure imagination. And then, one by one, they all die.

That’s right, the most shocking thing about this version of the story is the absolute destruction of the selfish kids who join Charlie Bucket on his adventure.. In the original 70s film, I remember the fate of the children being a bit vague and as a kid it was more like “something bad” just happened to them. In Tim Burton’s version, the children are seen leaving the factory at the end, albeit a bit squashed and stretched than they were before. This matched the original ending in the book.

But in this new musical version, the kids die. At least Augustus Gloop and Mike Teavee are more or less the same, so they could be a bit okay. But what happens to Violet and Veruca is both gruesome and horrifying, yet shockingly hilarious. I was wondering how this version would tackle the scarier aspects of the story but I had no idea they would go this overt with children dying.

But the onstage deaths of children wasn’t the only change to the story. Charlie’s father is but a ghost, leaving room for several touching scenes between the boy and his single mother. While Charlie and his family seem to be stuck in 1950s England, everyone else is straight out of the 21st century. Violet and Mike especially are now satires of the worst of the worst that Generation Z has to offer. Violet now shows her competitive spirit as a young Instagram influencer, and Mike has been modernized from a TV addict to gaming addict.

So storywise, some things stayed the same and some things changed. Classic adaptation. But the real question going into this was how on earth they were going to pull off the weird and fantastical world inside the Chocolate Factory.

Each of the factory’s main rooms designed to test self-control is a simple affair with a few of Wonka’s inventions and machines here and there. Where the world of pure imagination really comes to life is a series of layered screens around the border of the stage. They’re used sparingly, but the effects projected on them really do help transport the audience from a chocolate waterfall to outer space and beyond. As for the iconic Oompa Loompas, you’re going to have to go see the show to find out how those are pulled off.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is the perfect show to make you feel like a kid again. The characters are all colorful and reimagined for a new generation, and the scary bits are shocking yet not nightmare inducing. There are classic songs and new songs, there is humor for all ages, and truly fun for the whole family.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is playing at the Benedum Center through Sunday. Click here for ticket information.